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Flugel, J.C. (1953). The Death Instinct, Homeostasis and Allied Concepts—Some Problems and Implications. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 34S(Supplement):43-73.

(1953). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 34S(Supplement):43-73

The Death Instinct, Homeostasis and Allied Concepts—Some Problems and Implications

J. C. Flugel

I. Meanings and Implications of the Death Instinct

There is little doubt that of all Freud's concepts, that of the death instinct has proved the most provocative and embarrassing both to his own disciples and to psychologists at large. To some, as to the present writer, it has a certain awe-inspiring quality, like that of a great natural phenomenon or work of art, the profound implications of which can be dimly felt though its precise significance as yet escapes clear consciousness. Only a few psycho-analysts have found themselves at home with it and there is still much truth in the words written by Sir Percy Nunn, a friendly critic, in reference to its first formulation by Freud: 'He here outlines a conception so tragically grand that it extorts admiration, yet so terrible that it seems to make even his most faithful followers uneasy'; while among those hostile to psycho-analysis there are probably many who would agree with McDougall when he called the death instinct 'the most bizarre monster of all Freud's gallery of monsters'.

The concept of the death instinct is embarrassing not only emotionally but also intellectually, for its relations to the other more generally acceptable features of psycho-analytic theory are often far from clear. The various aspects and implications of the doctrine permit of more than one classification, but it would seem possible and profitable to distinguish at least six features which in one way or another determine its meaning, as this emerges from Freud's own works and those of other analysts.

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